By Craig Keller
The school gymnasium’s filled to capacity. A loose line of video cameras circles the rows of folding metal chairs. Blunt notes waft from an upright piano as clusters of costumed children spill onto the spotlit stage to belt and trill their way through 50 years of musical-theater standards.
It’s a big night for the kids–the 42nd annual pageant at Harand Camp of the Theatre Arts in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin–and every baby-faced guy and doll wants to deliver a knockout punch in the song-and-dance routine the group’s been honing for the last three weeks.
“Luck, be a lady tonight! Luck, be a lady tonight! ”
A passel of swaggering 12-year-olds do their best to evoke the brash hustlers of Damon Runyon’s Broadway. But halfway through the song, a miscue leads to a moment of confusion. Steps and voices falter. Frank Loesser’s masterpiece threatens to implode.
Standing off to the side, Sulie Harand–one half of the dynamic duo of sisters who reign over the camp–ratchets up her voice a notch to coax her charges through the rest of the song, just as she’s done every summer since 1955. She thrusts her arms forward and hurls the missing lyrics at the dumbfounded performers. A few bars later, they’re firing on all pistons again. The number ends in an enthusiastically punctuated tableau of extended arms and legs. The audience–moms and dads, aunts and uncles, fidgeting brothers and sisters–roars in approval.
Sulie’s older sister Pearl breathes a sigh of relief backstage, where she’s been directing traffic. Another generation has passed the test. The legacy of American musical theater, though slightly bruised, will persevere.
Headquartered in Evanston, Harand Camp has grown over two generations from a risky experiment into a one-of-a-kind midwest institution. Its mission has been simple: mixing the instruction of music, drama, and dance into the usual summer camp agenda of athletics and arts and crafts.
“I can’t believe this camp even existed,” says actor Jeremy Piven, who was a Harand camper as a teenager in the late 70s. “I mean, how many places in the world can you go to as a kid and get fulfillment performing in plays without all the politics–and still get to play sports all day long?”
“The place was like a magnet for kids in the theater,” says critic and teacher Albert Williams, a camper and counselor at Harand in the mid-60s. “But some of them were disappointed because Harand didn’t try to be a professionally oriented place. On the other hand, sometimes people who were creative got immersed in the turbulent, messy, neurotic reality and realized for the first time that the world didn’t revolve around them or their talent.”
To children raised on rock ‘n’ roll, the Harands have taught the classic songs of Gershwin, Berlin, and Rodgers and Hammerstein; but show tunes are a means, not an end. Singers and actors themselves, the sisters use musical theater as a vehicle to teach larger life lessons about the worth of the individual and the interdependence of all people.
“It’s not just about Rodgers and Hammerstein, or about teaching children these songs,” says Pearl Harand. “We had a feeling that these musicals would become classics–and they did. But our dream has always been to have a place where kids can laugh and play, where they can develop their whole personality while learning through shared experiences.”
The camp’s alumni include many who went into the arts and media industries. But many more have become teachers, doctors, lawyers, and businesspeople who gladly credit the camp for teaching them how to perform effectively in public. They often end up sending their own children to the camp.
“If fame and fortune are what you’re after, forget it,” Pearl says as she squints for dramatic effect. “Those things are not important.”
Half a century ago the Harand sisters made their names here staging inventive solo shows–a sort of musical-theater performance art–at conventions, ladies’ clubs, churches, and synagogues, as well as theaters. Audiences who saw them in their prime–Sulie in her one-woman adaptation of West Side Story, for instance, and Pearl in her tragicomic solo rendition of Fiddler on the Roof–remember them as dynamic, expressive performers who combined skill and talent with extraordinary force of personality. But the Harand sisters did not become legends in the world of American entertainment. They will never be mentioned in the same breath as stars like Ethel Merman and Mary Martin, or guiding forces like George Abbott and Rodgers and Hammerstein. The productions they mount at Harand Camp may be more polished than the average school play, but they’re not destined for the professional stage. Pearl and Sulie have left their true mark as teachers, instilling in their pupils the humanist optimism that distinguished the golden age of the American musical. Students memorize John Donne’s “No man is an island” along with the Carousel anthem “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” When Sulie declares “Nothing succeeds like putting a child on the stage,” she’s referring to the cultivation of the whole person. Theater can impart the lesson that life’s failures are often failures of confidence, not talent. “We helped some children learn to concentrate,” says Pearl, “and to be part of the whole group, not just individuals.”
That lesson extended to everyone–from talented mini-stars used to getting the lead in every school play to insecure children accustomed to being told they should move their lips while the rest of the class sang.
“Sulie and Pearl made a tremendous contribution to arts education,” says Lois Weisberg, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and a former acting teacher at the camp. “Both of my sons, Jacob and Joseph, attended camp, and neither had any talent as singers. But it was a wonderful experience for them, because the camp is not only for talented kids. The Harands’ approach should be reinvented today in the public schools. Their model is an extraordinary model for teaching.”
“I have to say the experience has proved invaluable,” says Cook County public defender Richard Paull, who attended from 1978 to 1986. “Especially in terms of my confidence and being able to get up in front of a judge. But also in terms of the humanity it taught. Camp had a charitable aspect to it. Everyone was equal there. It made me realize I wanted to help underprivileged people who couldn’t help themselves.”
“My cousin wouldn’t talk to anyone,” recalls Cheryl Sloane, a former Second City producer and now the director of Navy Pier’s Magic City summer arts festivals. “She was always really quiet and shy, but after her first summer at camp she was singing all over the house. She wouldn’t shut up.” Sloane, who was a camper and counselor for six years in the 1970s, cites the time Sulie admonished her for becoming frustrated in her attempts to discipline a particularly troublesome girl in her cabin. “Sulie looked at me and said, “Her mother and father don’t want her. We’ll just have to make do as best we can.’ Those words really straightened me out not only in terms of this person, but in terms of life in general.”
To reinforce their lessons, the Harands developed an egalitarian, and sometimes eccentric, method of casting that guaranteed each child got a featured role and a part in the chorus in every production. A single performance of Annie Get Your Gun, for instance, might feature four to six different Annies–each girl having her own scene and song, before and after which she would appear in the chorus. The none-too-subtle message: being in the chorus is just as important as being the lead, and everyone deserves a chance at both. The lesson was reinforced by the intensely personal interest Sulie and Pearl took in each kid. “They had this knack of making everyone feel like he or she was their favorite camper,” says Morgan Proctor, a producer of TV and radio commercials for his mother Barbara’s advertising company, Proctor Communications Network. “They both made you feel special. I used to think I was their darling until I talked to three or four other people and they said, “They treat me the same way.”‘
“These women’s hearts are so big; so much love just radiates from them,” says Jeremy Piven. “And to top it off, they infuse some great things into kids. “No Man is an island’ is some pretty heavy stuff for little kids to be singing, whether they get it or not. But that’s the joke of life. You can’t do it alone–you need others to help you create.”
The only daughters of Ukrainian immigrants Jacob and Frema Harand, Pearl and Sulie grew up in the 1920s and ’30s in Humboldt Park, a neighborhood then heavily populated by Polish and Russian Jews. Jacob worked as an egg candler and, later, as an agent for the New York Life Insurance Company. Described by Pearl as a gregarious man who befriended people of all races, colors, and creeds, he tried to make culture an important part of his children’s lives. Frema was a self-trained singer who, despite suffering a gradual loss of hearing, was roundly admired for her dulcet soprano. From an early age, both girls, educated in English and Yiddish, were taught an appreciation for music, dance, drama, art, poetry, and history. They took piano lessons on a spinet their uncle sold to their parents for $100. They joined cultural groups at school and eagerly awaited Sunday mornings, when a friend or relative would drop by with a Caruso or Galli-Curci recording to play on the family’s stand-up Victrola. Their mother, Pearl recalls, would make them tap out the rhythm to a particular song before she’d serve them dinner.
Jacob and Frema threw highbrow parties where poetry was read, music played, and folk songs sung. The sisters fondly recall one evening when Yiddish writer Sholem Asch paid a visit.
“My parents weren’t superintellectuals or bohemians,” says Pearl. “They were down-to-earth, hardworking, simple idealists who strove not for the dollar bill but to give their children a better, richer life than they had. Education was above everything, and so was the humanitarian spirit that they thought would bring people together. America was going to be a wonderful, free society.”
The parents had to be resourceful to nurture their daughters’ artistic inclinations. Frema sewed their clothes and found ways to pinch pennies so the girls could regularly sit in the balcony of the Auditorium Theatre and marvel at such performers of the day as the ballerina Anna Pavlova and violinist Jascha Heifetz. Jacob took out a loan to pay for their after-school lessons and for their enrollment at conservatories, where both trained in voice and ballet.
Frema played the part of the loving stage mother, encouraging her daughters to sing along when she performed at social events. “Whenever my mother would sing for causes, we’d sing too,” Pearl recalls. “And there was always a cause; people always needed help. The events we sang at were usually charitable or political–raising money for cancer research, war relief, all sorts of things.
“Our mother, deaf as she was, always said the important thing was to sing with soul. And even after losing most of her hearing she would still say, “Don’t hold that note so long!”‘
The Harand sisters pursued separate artistic paths. Pearl initially performed as a folk balladeer (she wrote many of her own songs). Sulie, who had inherited her mother’s vocal cords, trained to become an opera singer and ended up a well-traveled chanteuse.
Pearl recalls that her friends at Tuley High School (now Roberto Clemente) were an intense group of teenagers concerned with progressive politics and intellectual pursuits. “We were part of the same crowd that included Saul Bellow and Sydney Harris, the former Chicago Daily News columnist,” she says. “I would walk home across the park with Saul and listen to him go on with such passion about Nietzsche and Schopenhauer. We were very serious as teenagers, quite idealistic and aware of the changing world–never naughty. Saul was a very serious young man, always on a soapbox. And he always knew he’d be a writer.”
In his story “What Kind of Day Did You Have?” (published in the 1984 collection Him With His Foot in His Mouth and Other Stories), Bellow describes a day in the life of an Evanston matron and her relationship with an aging, celebrated New York art critic. The protagonist’s daughters are named Pearl and “Soolie.”
“So now we’ve been immortalized,” jokes Pearl. “Except that he spelled my sister’s name wrong and made us wordless Pearl and silent Soolie. When I saw that I thought, “Boy, have you got the wrong number!”‘
In order to help pay for her drama and dance classes, Pearl worked as a bookkeeper and modeled clothes for wholesalers. In the mid-30s she joined the Chicago Repertory Theatre, whose ranks included Studs Terkel and Nate Davis, still a well-known local actor. Ensemble members wrote much of their own material and treated trade unions and other groups to important new plays imbued with realistic dialogue and socialist messages, such as Irwin Shaw’s antiwar drama Bury the Dead and Clifford Odets’s prounion Waiting for Lefty.
“The Chicago Rep had more in common with New York’s Group Theatre than with the WPA’s Federal Theatre Project,” says Pearl. She says that members of the Group–including John Garfield, Morris Carnovsky, and Stella Adler–considered the Chicago troupe ideological compatriots and would sometimes perform at the theater when they were in town and offer acting classes in the Stanislavski method.
“That was an important part of our lives,” Pearl says. “We were a tight group.” She recalls that when her father was to undergo surgery for cancer Terkel rushed to the hospital to donate blood.
As Pearl’s interest in drama deepened, Sulie remained focused on developing her vocal talents, beginning opera and classical music training at the age of 15. “I actually was taking singing lessons earlier, when I was 12 or 13, after school and on Saturdays at the American Conservatory of Music in the Loop,” says Sulie, her words shaded by a throaty timbre. She speaks in the careful manner of someone who’s devoted long years to learning breath control and enunciation. Sulie studied at the Richard D. Young Studio, where her coaches included the late Kurt Herbert Adler, who later became the general director of the San Francisco Opera Company.
Sulie’s star was the first to rise. During the Depression she became something of a professional amateur, performing in talent shows sponsored by neighborhood movie houses and entering countless radio contests–each time under a different name dreamed up by Frema. The prizes she won, usually merchandise donated by local businesses, were later pawned to help pay for her lessons and, occasionally, the family’s groceries. In 1937 Jacob, whom Pearl recalls as “the life of the party,” died at the age of 47. People Pearl and Sulie had never seen before stood up at his funeral to sing his praises.
Their father’s death forced the sisters to test their revenue-generating potential as entertainers. “We had to become the breadwinners,” says Pearl. Soon Sulie scored a minor jackpot, upstaging the competition at the Oriental Theater to garner a weeklong run on its stage. For a short time she also worked as a waitress, but gigs on the local nightclub circuit–including a prolonged run at the former Silhouette Club on Howard Street–quickly snowballed into a career as a regionally touring vocalist.
“Theater agents would book me in places like Fairfield, Iowa, and Rockford–club dates mostly, which usually consisted of a band, a singer, and a dancer,” says Sulie. “I would take the train or travel eight hours by car to perform for one or two nights.”
Pearl, who’d been taking undergraduate literature and theater courses at Northwestern, dropped out and followed suit. Though variety shows at nightclubs also figured prominently in her bookings, Pearl’s subtle comic stylings proved ideal for smaller settings. A prolific writer who scripted her own material, she often headed the bill at bar mitzvahs and other family fetes, where, having learned salient details of the celebrants’ lives from close relatives, she’d transform their life stories into a series of comic sketches interwoven with music. For weddings and anniversaries, she’d pen comedies about married life.
“Her performances had serious and funny elements,” says Janice Lovell, the younger of Pearl’s two daughters. “They usually ran about an hour and a half, were always done in rhyme, and alternated between songs and sketches. She was great with dialects, a true mimic. I grew up wanting to sing like Sulie and be funny like my mom.”
Pearl’s repertoire was peopled by an array of characters, but the most memorable was likely the “Bubbie,” a caricature of a Jewish grandmother. “What have I got?” the bifocaled, hard-of-hearing Bubbie would inquire of her doctor in one scene. “I’m afraid it’s cataracts,” the doctor replied. “Cadillacs?” shot back Bubbie. “I’ve got Cadillacs?”
“Through her eyes I was able to philosophize and convey people’s fears and emotions,” says Pearl. “She became my ace character. Years later, I planned to use her in an audition I had lined up with Carson, but I decided not to go, or for that matter to pursue commercial work in Chicago or California, where we had cousins in the business. That just wasn’t our world. I never wanted to step on someone else’s feet, or push or fight to get anywhere.”
Maurice Schwartz, a leading actor in Yiddish theater, once invited Pearl to become his protege in New York, but she turned him down. “I certainly didn’t want to leave my mother and sister,” she says.
Both Pearl and Sulie ended up marrying servicemen during World War II. While their husbands were overseas, the sisters performed in USO shows throughout the midwest and donated their talents to help raise money for war-relief charities.
“My husband fell in love with a girl who sang,” Sulie says of her late husband, Byron Friedman. “He was 100 percent supportive of my career, and farsighted enough to convince me never to stop singing for the public.”
Three years her senior, Friedman met Sulie at Central YMCA College in the Loop. Lanky, easygoing, and wryly humorous, he provided the perfect counterweight to Sulie’s exuberant histrionics. Described by many as a compassionate soul, Friedman worked as a social worker between graduation and the war. Sulie gave birth to the first of their two daughters, Jackie (now a reporter in Reston, Virginia), while he was treating wounded soldiers as an American Red Cross field officer. Nine years passed before they had their second daughter, Judy, today a real estate agent in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.
Pearl’s suitor, an aspiring actor named Sam Gaffin, had been part of the Chicago Repertory Theatre. Though Pearl had already left the company by the time he joined up, his sister had seen Pearl perform in variety shows on the club circuit. One evening in 1943, Gaffin’s sister invited the two over to her place for dinner while he was on furlough from an army base in Bremerton, Washington.
“I didn’t want to meet anyone at the time, but there was a sweet attraction between us,” says Pearl. “We started writing to each other every day, and in writing discovered that we had many of the same friends and interests. Six months later we were married. He said, “I’m not marrying you because I want a housewife.’ He himself could have pursued any career he wanted. Sam was just a sweet guy.”
Sam, a sergeant in the army, also came home to a daughter, Nora (now a drama teacher in California). Like Byron, Sam exuded strength and common sense, but unlike Byron, recalls choreographer Nora Jacobs, who taught dance at the Harands’ Chicago studio, “he was more temperamental, flamboyant, and intense than his wife. The husbands were the opposites of their spouses.”
Both Sam and Byron worked briefly at the American Tobacco Company in Chicago. Sam was a salesman and Byron was an administrator who quickly rose through the ranks to become a vice president. But Byron soon abandoned his career to work full-time as Sulie’s business manager. Initially, both families shared a four-bedroom white stucco house on Fargo Street in Rogers Park before splitting up and moving into Evanston.
“Byron would have done anything to make Sulie happy,” says Fran Rush, an elementary school phys-ed instructor in Austin, Texas, who was hired as a counselor at Harand Camp in 1959 and has assisted Sulie with activities there since 1962. “He was her own personal fan club. He was a new-wave kind of guy who didn’t mind his wife being strong.”
In the mid-40s the Harands’ solo musical-theater pieces had turned the sisters into minor celebrities who were never at a loss for work.
“After I got married and had been doing mainly nightclub work, somebody–I don’t recall who–began doing operettas in the area,” says Sulie. “Pearl said, “Why don’t you try something like that?’ The first musical I did was Oklahoma! at the Oak Park Women’s Club. Once I’d done that, the calls started coming in fast and furious. It was always, “What are you going to do next year?’ Before long it became a tradition.”
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1943 landmark provided Sulie with the ideal vehicle for her multiple talents. Over the next three decades, Sulie played all the great roles in contemporary musical theater–literally. Oklahoma! was followed by condensed solo treatments of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel, South Pacific, and The Sound of Music; Frank Loesser’s The Most Happy Fella; Harold Rome and Joshua Logan’s Fanny; Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt’s I Do! I Do!, a musical meditation on marriage (originally for two actors); and the 1969 American Revolution-themed 1776.
Sulie would select a character to narrate the story, which helped to piece together the narrative, and along the way a multitude of other characters would come into play. She used scant props and costumes to construct her rich tapestries of character, setting, song, and dance. Music was provided by Sulie’s longtime accompanist Marty Rubenstein, a Harand Camp fixture until his death in 1991, and the composer of such familiar commercial jingles as “When it says Libby, Libby, Libby on the label, label, label.” He also worked as an accompanist for Mike Nichols and Elaine May.
West Side Story, which Sulie adapted soon after its 1957 premiere, became her tour de force. Told through the eyes of Maria’s best friend, Anita, the story required only a stepladder for a set.
“Sulie would play every part in these sweeping performances,” recalls Estelle Spector, who taught dance at Harand Camp and now teaches musical theater at Columbia College. “Her West Side Story was beyond belief. In the “Tonight’ duet one minute she’s Tony, the next she’s Maria–and they would sing to each other! If she could have done all the voices for “Gee, Officer Krupke!’ she would have.”
Word of Sulie’s shows spread and eventually led to a brief flirtation with Broadway in 1962. “A black arranger in Chicago had told me, “I’ve got to get you to New York,’ and so I went,” says Sulie. “When I got to Carnegie Hall there were four or five men seated in the audience, including Stuart Ostrow, who later won a Tony for his production of 1776, and Frank Loesser, who had written Guys and Dolls, The Most Happy Fella, and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Loesser said, “I’m told you’re wonderful. Well, I’m writing a wonderful show, but I only have 20 minutes to give you.” Which made me nervous because the show I was doing for him, Fiorello!, ran for an hour and 15 minutes.” The 1959 musical–with lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, music by Jerry Bock, and a book by George Abbott–told the story of New York mayor and political reformer Fiorello La Guardia. “I figured I would stop after an important part unless they wanted more. So I started, and kept going, and after a half hour they still hadn’t stopped me. Forty minutes later, nothing. An hour later, nothing. Finally I got to the end, and there I was in this empty theater with these gentlemen, and there was this very embarrassing silence. I tried for a little levity and said, “Should I stop now?’ At that point all four stood up and gave me a standing ovation. “Don’t tell George Abbott this,’ said Loesser, “but you got something out of that show that he never did.”‘
Sulie declined Loesser’s offer to cast her in a musical comedy based on the life of Pancho Villa. It was set to open in Philadelphia prior to a planned Broadway debut, but Sulie feared she would be away from her family too long. “And it’s a good thing, too,” she says, “because the show never got out of Philadelphia.
“I’ve never cared about how big or educated my audiences were, or how much money I made,” adds Sulie. “I did one big convention at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Florida, where I made good money even though the crowd was talking and drinking the whole time, and a fund-raiser for Abner Mikva in Cahn Auditorium at Northwestern, where the audience was great but I didn’t make one cent. I didn’t give a damn.”
Both Sulie and Pearl developed specialties in musical biography. Sulie’s tributes to American composers–George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Leonard Bernstein, Rodgers and Hammerstein, and Lerner and Loewe–consisted of narration, brief dramatic scenes, and interpolated songs selected for their ability to emphasize major periods in the composers’ lives. Pearl selected more intimate, serious material, in which songs were subordinate to the text. Her works, largely penned by herself, included biographies of Russian-Jewish writer Shalom Aleichem (whose stories later served as the basis for Fiddler on the Roof), Yiddish theater comedian Molly Picon, and Broadway star Ethel Waters.
“Her life was very tragic and very beautiful,” Pearl says of Waters, whose heyday stretched from the 1930s to the ’50s. “She went through everything a black singer of that time could go through, and in spite of it all still sang wonderful blues with a great voice and spirit that really moved you. I called it “His Eye Is on the Sparrow,’ after the name of her biography.” Pearl and her mother Frema went to meet Waters one evening backstage at the Chicago City Opera, where the singer was performing, to solicit her approval. “When we met her, she put her arms around my mother and me and, without hesitation, said, “OK, I trust you.”‘
The surprising success of Fiddler in the mid-60s finally gave Pearl a reason to do her own musical, though her version–which mixed songs from the musical with Russian dances, vignettes from Aleichem’s stories, and her own musings–was hardly a strict re-creation.
“Nobody could have prepared you for it,” says critic Albert Williams. “She comes onto the stage pushing a horse cart, wearing a babushka, and playing one of the younger daughters. She starts saying something like “When we were in Russia,’ and then suddenly she becomes Tevye, who is talking to God. She exuded a Chekhovian pathos that brought a very special dimension to that role.”
Pearl’s only other stab at the one-woman musical was The Zulu and the Zayda, which had been produced on Broadway in 1965 with songs by Harold Rome. The story–a Jewish grandfather leaves London to live with his son and a Zulu servant in South Africa–appealed to Pearl because it carried a strong message.
“Through the eyes of the grandfather and the Zulu you see the story of apartheid, the agony of the grandfather’s geriatric life in a strange land, and the beautiful association that develops between the two as they become more father and son than elder and servant,” says Pearl. “It’s all about putting yourself in the shoes and skin and voice of the characters and relating every moment to communicating with the characters around you. The message of The Zulu and the Zayda is simply that it’s great to be alive, and that’s a great message.”
“Wherever we went, parents would ask us, “Can you teach my children to do that?”‘ says Pearl. “But it was Byron who eventually came up with the idea for the studio. I can still remember the first time he drove us there, and we saw “Pearl and Sulie Harand’ in lights. It was quite a thrill.”
The Harand sisters’ first studio opened in 1952 at 679 N. Michigan, near the Allerton Hotel. Three other locations followed, including one in the Fine Arts Building and another on Superior Street. For a while they even ran a satellite facility in Glencoe. The studio became a prototype for Harand Camp. Pearl taught drama; Sulie taught voice; and Byron acted as the business manager. They hired additional staff–drama coaches, dance instructors, musical accompanists–to help develop their interdisciplinary curriculum. From the start an emphasis was placed both on equal opportunity (three classes cost all of five dollars) and on musical comedy; students ages 5 to 17 rehearsed shows, and the older ones occasionally performed at local high schools.
“Their school was very unprecedented,” says Lois Weisberg, who taught creative dramatics. “I’ve never seen anything like it since. We would get hundreds of kids every Saturday, from nine in the morning to six at night, a new class every 45 minutes. Teachers like me would be half dead by the end of the day.
“Sulie and Pearl were marvelous teachers. They really understood child psychology, they were great musicians, and they taught with a lot of love and creativity. I recall they used to stay up all night long and write scripts. The interesting thing to me is that no one has ever appreciated what they’ve done, which was to make a tremendous contribution to arts education.”
The Harands drew on their circle of friends to build their staff. Marty Rubenstein provided music, and Shirley Linder taught drama. Byrne and Joyce Piven helped start the acting program (and later went on to found their own Piven Theatre Workshop in Evanston). Nora Jacobs, the studio’s first dance teacher, had studied drama under Viola Spolin and trained as a dancer with Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham.
“I was very demanding and expected the children to do things my way,” says Jacobs, 73, who’s now a psychologist in Los Angeles, where she has worked professionally as a choreographer, dancer, and actor. “Pearl, Sulie, and I were a very tight crew, really simpatico, but I had a stronger connection with Sulie, who was more dynamic, flamboyant, and made stronger demands.”
The studio remained in operation until the mid-60s, when the growth of suburban arts programs began to change the long-standing tradition of sending kids into the city for lessons.
The idea of the summer camp took root soon after the studio had opened. Pearl and Sulie found their students tagging along with them after the last class had ended. “They would follow us all the way home,” says Pearl. “When their parents would come to pick them up, they’d say, “Why don’t you open a summer camp? You’re running one already.”‘
A Milwaukee nightclub owner who had hired Sulie mentioned that the Ost- hoff, a resort property in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, was for sale, and Byron took the initiative, cashing in his insurance policy to come up with the down payment for the property. The purchase price was nearly $100,000.
Built in 1885 by Otto and Paulina Osthoff, a German-American couple who also owned the Schlitz Palm Garden in Milwaukee, the resort comprised some 62 acres of beautiful lakefront property with a couple dozen faded white frame buildings. Byron and Sam immediately set about renovating the aged structures, and in the summer of 1954, with a staff and 87 campers siphoned mainly from the studio in Chicago, Harand Camp opened for business. “The first time we went up there to check it out, over Memorial Day weekend, we took teachers and kids from the studio in two station wagons,” recalls Errol Pearlman, who has been an accompanist at Harand Camp since he was 16 and is now a composer and chairman of the fine arts program at Taft High School. “As kids from the city in the early 50s we knew nothing about the country. I remember opening the car doors and running through the place, thinking “All of this is ours.’ It was just an incredible feeling.”
In the beginning, there was no way of knowing how successful the camp would be. There were virtually no precedents from which to crib guidelines. The closest example was the private, highly competitive arts conservatory of Interlochen in Michigan, but the Harands were determined not to emulate its approach (end-of-week auditions took place on what was unofficially known as “Vomit Friday”). Yet through strong word of mouth and Byron’s tireless recruitment efforts–namely traveling the midwest with scrapbooks and home movies showing happy campers–Harand Camp blossomed. By its third year of operation the camp was serving 250 kids; at its peak in the 1970s the number topped out at around 400. Tuition during the first year was $575 for eight weeks, an amount that has since increased to $1,750 for three weeks and $3,395 for six weeks.
Pearl came up with the idea of naming all the buildings after musicals and all the performance and classroom spaces after famous theaters, composers, and authors. The main structure, a great gabled affair with an old-fashioned veranda, was christened “Wonderful Town” after the 1953 Leonard Bernstein musical. Its first floor boasted “Carnegie Hall,” an auditorium fashioned from a former dining hall; the “Met,” where Sulie conducted singing lessons; classrooms named after Bach, Shakespeare, and Irving Berlin; recreation rooms; a library packed with scores and scripts; the canteen (where sweets were doled out after meals); and a hard-to-find costume shop that had been a speakeasy during Prohibition. Upstairs were the staff’s living quarters, an infirmary, and an attic that served as both a surreptitious rendezvous point for lovebirds and home to more than a few bats, which startled staffers would occasionally find in the infirmary shower. Next door stood “Sadler’s Wells,” named for the historic British ballet, which served as the dance studio.
The owners’ cottage was “Harando’s Hideaway” (a slight corruption of the song “Hernando’s Hideaway” from 1954’s The Pajama Game), where both families, along with “Grandma” Frema, stayed until Sam became a more permanent fixture as the camp’s cook and the Gaffins moved into an apartment above the huge nearby dining hall.
The names of the outlying cabins, where campers were divided by gender and age, have fluctuated over the years, but some of the favorites include Carousel, Oklahoma, Plain and Fancy, Rodeo, Brigadoon (a girls’ cabin later divided into two groups–Brig I and II), My Fair Lady, Dodge City, Finian’s Rainbow (a girls’ cabin that later switched gender and became Man of La Mancha), Mame, Camelot, and Show Boat. South Pacific (later “South Pack” I and II), a secluded former honeymoon cabin on the lakefront, housed the oldest–and hence more troublesome–boys. Each cabin was painted with colorful logos from its namesake show. The stretch of lakefront where water sports took place–overseen by the late Chuck “Coach” Levandowski, a Milwaukee schoolteacher–was called On the Waterfront, a rare departure from the musical moniker pattern. On the Waterfront possessed its own landmark of sorts, the “gum tree,” which generations of campers transformed into a Jackson Pollock-like shrine to Black Jack, Juicy Fruit, and Bubbalicious.
As in their Chicago studio, “Aunt” Sulie took charge of the singing and “Aunt” Pearl supervised the acting classes. But each took on additional responsibilities as well, with Sulie overseeing the day-to-day program scheduling and Pearl assuming control of costuming and set design, much of which was done in the prop shop, a small building on the edge of camp.
The sisters’ division of responsibilities also applied to discipline. Pearl became the more emotional, maternal, nurturing presence, the one most likely to take a homesick child under her wing. “You can turn your tears on and off anytime you want to,” she’d tell a sobbing camper, demonstrating this trick by opening up a phone book and crying as she read. When the book closed the tears stopped. Sulie, on the other hand, brooked no nonsense.
“It was a good cop/bad cop kind of thing,” recalls a camper. “Sulie would yell at you; Pearl would look at you with a wounded expression and say, “Why do you do this to me?”‘
The creative hothouse environment sometimes fed into a playing out of melo- dramatic behavior and emotional venting. One camper remembers that a group of teenagers started acting up–donning sunglasses, remaining aloof, and avoiding daily rituals like the flag raising. Sulie called a meeting. She was distraught, telling the older kids that they were expected to be role models. “We love you so much. How can you do this?” Everyone sat still, serious expressions all around. The lunch bell rang, and the teens started to leave. “Where are you going?” Sulie asked. “How can you be hungry–you’ve been eating my heart out all morning!”
Discipline was also applied by “Uncle” Byron, whose methods were subtle, and “Uncle” Sam, a straightforward drill sergeant who ran a tight ship. Sam initially came up only on weekends, when he would wield a pair of tongs as the reigning impresario at Sunday cookouts. But after going to culinary school, he took over the job of head cook from the husband-and-wife team of Rollie and Evelyn Metzner. Rollie was “a terror,” according to Pearl. “He didn’t like children. Every time you turned around he was marching into Byron’s office and announcing that he was quitting.”
Sam headed up the scuba-diving program, and both he and Byron became genuine father figures to scores of boys who didn’t quite fit in. Byron–referred to as the “Big Toe,” because without him the camp would be hard-pressed to stand on its feet–made a conscious effort to befriend such campers, and would try to improve their self-esteem by giving them responsibilities around the office.
“Byron always knew just how much you could handle,” says Bruce Block, a Harand camper in the 1960s and the producer of the recent Father of the Bride remake and its sequel. “He entrusted me with the combination to the safe in the front office, where we kept $30 for each kid, and about 40 keys. I looked like the school janitor–I could get into anything.
“People like me became the son he never had. Byron would always say to me–” Block pauses and takes a deep breath. “Byron would say, “Always get a receipt,’ and to this day I remember that whenever I’m doing business. The other thing that stays with me was his constant reminder: “Remember, people are more important than things.”‘
Though its main order of business has always been musical theater, Harand Camp’s like other summer camps with sports programs and other diversions. Activities include scavenger hunts, carnivals, mock political conventions, outings to the minor league ballpark in Madison (Sulie’s a big baseball fan), and campfire sing-alongs. Campers must take voice, dance, and drama lessons every day, Monday through Saturday, and they’re free to choose among other sports and arts and crafts classes. The mid-camp pageant and the mini-festival of full-length musicals performed during the final weekend have always been the camp’s two signature events.
The pageants are essentially descended from Sulie’s solo musical biographies of American composers, done on a much grander scale with a full ensemble. Three hours’ worth of song and dance is interspersed with short dramatic skits and narration (written by Pearl, often with her daughter Nora) that serve to elucidate the stories behind the songs and the composers’ intentions.
One of the more interesting longtime vehicles has been Ballad for Americans, the populist cantata by leftist songwriter Earl Robinson that became associated with Paul Robeson in the 1930s. Written for soloist and youth chorus, Ballad for Americans should run about 20 minutes. But as revised by the Harand sisters, it runs much longer, inflated with performers and songs from other shows (for example, tunes from Lerner and Loewe’s cowboy musical Paint Your Wagon are inserted into the cantata’s discussion of the pioneers). It was performed during the first summer at Harand Camp, when the pageant, lacking the carefully planned traffic patterns it would develop in later years, ran for two straight days.
“I love pageant,” says Sulie. “At the end the whole camp comes up for the finale–we would pour on as many as 300 kids at the old camp. People aren’t expecting it and don’t know where the kids have come from. We’ve lined them up in the back, at the doors, under the windows. We do the final number together, and it’s symbolic of everyone’s effort. Listen, we’re not terribly subtle. We try to make the connection to what the world is like. If we don’t cooperate there’s no world.”
Pearl says that in the late 50s Wisconsin governor Walter J. Kohler attended a pageant tribute to Irving Berlin. “At the end someone plays the Statue of Liberty, and we sing the Emma Lazarus poem inscribed on the base of the statue–“Give me your tired, your poor,’ etcetera. It’s always a very powerful moment. After the children had filed out and gone directly to their cabins, the governor got on the mike in the office and started crying over the PA system. He was saying, “Thank you children. You showed me things I never knew.”‘
Pageants, and the camp in general, have adapted to the times. Sulie and Pearl, while thoroughly conservative with regard to family values and patriotic pride, are nothing short of bleeding-heart liberals when it comes to politics. In 1969, they staged a “Sights and Sounds of the 60s” pageant that concluded with excerpts from Hair. Ten years earlier, Harand was among the first summer camps in their area to welcome blacks. The Vietnam War was discussed frankly during Byron’s Friday night nonsectarian services, and the death of Bobby Kennedy hit Pearl particularly hard. “I have vivid memories of sitting around a campfire in 1968,” recalls Albert Williams. “Pearl had gathered all the older boys–I don’t remember the occasion–and started crying and talking about Bobby Kennedy’s death and the war and the uncertain future that awaited us. There was a quintessentially Kennedy-Stevenson liberalism about the place. There was even a cabin called New Frontier.”
In those years the final weekend’s festival would begin on Friday evening and run all day on Saturday and most of Sunday. Different age groups would stage as many as 15 full-length musicals–a minor miracle of assembly-line production repeated every year to the present (albeit in a somewhat diminished form). The emphasis was always on “message” shows– such as The King and I, South Pacific, and Carousel–that preached themes of brotherhood, tolerance, and the enduring power of love, reflecting a faith in humanity that marked the work of the great Jewish-American songwriters of Pearl and Sulie’s generation.
The sister’s method of giving every child “a scene and a song” led to some amusing results. “One time,” recalls Estelle Spector, “we had a kid who wanted to play Curly, the big, handsome lead in Oklahoma! The only problem was that he had broken both his arms and was in this huge body cast. At the part where Curly talks about holding Laurie in his arms it looked like he was about to club her to death.”
Many kids blossomed because they were given chances to do things that they normally wouldn’t have been encouraged to do. Sulie recalls a deaf girl who wanted to sing a solo in The Pajama Game. “We gave her a verse, and when she started to sing a rustle went through the audience,” says Sulie. “We thought, “Oh God, they’re going to laugh because they think it’s funny.’ But when they started realizing what was happening they went totally silent, and when the girl finished the entire place burst into spontaneous applause. She didn’t know what was happening at first, that the applause was for the courage she had displayed.”
Everyone was required to pitch in on sets and props, and this ensemble-minded philosophy provided many with training they might not have received anywhere else. Lyric Opera lighting designer Duane Schuler grew up on a nearby farm and worked as a dishwasher in the dining hall before serving as the camp’s technical director for two years.
“We made do with very little equipment–coffee cans for lights, 16-gauge zip cord–but it provided great exposure to the business,” he says. “And it was all because of Sulie and Pearl. They created an environment that was absolutely unique. Was it great art? Probably not. But there was a real soul in all of it, some really amazing stuff.”
The learning process was reinforced through bonding rituals. Richard Berman, producer of the Grumpy Old Men movies, shared a cabin in the mid-60s with Bruce Block and film director Andy Davis (The Fugitive), who was a counselor at the camp. “My first remembrance is of taking the train up to Elkhart Lake from Chicago,” he says. “You would pull up in a quaint little railroad station, and the staff from camp would greet you with posters that said “Welcome Campers” and start singing “Consider Yourself” from Oliver!–reacting to your arrival as if you were Broadway stars. We’d have a parade through the center of town, kids clutching teddy bears, people from the town coming out to watch. From that point on you felt accepted into the group.”
Camp did not officially begin until everyone gathered in a circle, candles in hand, to talk about hopes and plans for the future. Each morning included a flag-raising ceremony, which was kicked off by Uncle Byron broadcasting over the PA system, playing recordings of train crashes and the Chipmunks and cheerfully announcing, “Good morning, campers! It’s a beautiful day!” The final Thursday night at camp featured a tearful ceremony (complete with red flares) in which campers placed their handprints in the cement sidewalks circling Wonderful Town. Every evening, almost without exception, ended with a chorus of “No man is an island.”
“Pearl and Sulie were extraordinary in the way they created their own mythology as they went along, part of which was connected in a very mystical way,” says Todd London, a critic and former editor for American Theatre magazine and a onetime professor of theater at NYU and Harvard. London was a camper and counselor at Harand in the late 60s and early 70s. “The handprint ceremonies were especially moving . . . the red flares . . . the smell of the night. All of this stuff was highly theatricalized, and sometimes schmaltzy, but it was true and affective, and people like me got swept up it.
“I grew up in a mixed Italian and Jewish and, consequently, agnostic household. “No man is an island’ and the theater are the closest things I have to a religious upbringing. For me, personally, Harand Camp really succeeded in bringing about the meeting of community and theater, and everything I’m now involved in is built around the fact that theater is perhaps the only community-based and -building art form left. That’s not prosaic–it’s at the heart of what I care about.”
Some of the most significant members of that community now exist only in memory, though their spirits, borne in the words and deeds of Pearl and Sulie, live on.
Frema Harand died in 1971 at the age of 82. Sam Gaffin passed away eight years later at the age of 63, in the 25th-anniversary year of the camp. He died five days after the season ended, following a summer in which he’d sensed that his cancer was worsening but kept it to himself. “He refused to go home and check into the hospital until the final show was over,” says Judy Friedman.
Pearl, Sulie, and Byron persevered, but in 1989–with town officials hinting at special assessments and the deteriorating buildings sorely in need of renovation–the aging owners sold the property at Elkhart Lake. It took all of one week for South Pacific, Carousel, Brigadoon, and the rest of Harand Camp to fall to the wrecking ball. “It was amazing how small the place looked when they were done,” says Erol Perlman, who videotaped the demolition and its aftermath. Artifacts were picked over by scavengers, and a condominium resort was constructed on the spot once occupied by Wonderful Town. All that remains of the former camp are Wonderful Town’s fireplace and its newel post, which now forms the base of the grand staircase in the new building.
Uncle Byron, Harand Camp’s Big Toe, died in 1994 at the age of 78, three weeks into the camp’s 40th year. In classic show-must-go-on fashion, his funeral was delayed one week so the campers could perform the pageant, which had suddenly been transformed into a fitting tribute. His death marked the end of an era, but, in the camp’s new location of Beaver Dam, a younger generation of leaders–Pearl’s daughters Nora and Janice, Sulie’s daughter Judy, and Judy’s daughter Jackie–has emerged, even though Pearl and Sulie show no signs of slowing down.
“That may be the secret of the place,” says playwright David Rush. “Men ran the machinery, but women ran its heart.”
Over the Labor Day weekend, Rush and about 270 former campers staged an “all-time reunion” tribute to the Harand sisters at the new resort in Elkhart Lake. The celebration had been lobbied for by four decades’ worth of nostalgic campers, counselors, and teachers. Camp ceremonies were reenacted, numbers from Oklahoma! and Carousel were reprised, and a dozen or so campers took the stage to let the sisters know how much of a difference they had made in their lives.
“I kept saying to myself, “I can’t believe this is happening’–and that’s the only way I can describe it,” says Sulie. “It was happening. As if we were way up in the sky and looking down at it. I admit to some trepidation, because I was without Byron, but it did seem like a validation of everything we’d done.
“Byron used to say, “Sulie, you have no idea what we’re doing for these kids’ future–they’ll never forget this,’ and I’d say, “Byron, you’re exaggerating.’ That’s what made all of this so upsetting. Because everything he said came true.”
“It felt good,” Pearl admits, “but so strange. Someone says “I love you’ or signs a card on Valentine’s Day, but it’s hard to appraise yourself. Todd London read a paragraph from an evaluation I had written for him when he went off to college. Steve Gore, who’s now an oncologist at Johns Hopkins University, handed me a condolence card with poetry I had written for him when his father died. To think that these boys, men of some esteem, had kept these notes in such a cherished way all these years. I was amazed I had done it, because I don’t remember, having done it in the heat of the moment. But I was very flattered.
“Harand Camp will go on. My little Sammy–Janice’s boy–was watching all of this, and he tugged at my blouse and said, “Grandma, we have to follow the pattern!’ He was talking about how there were originally four of us–me and Sulie, Byron and Sam. Then there were another four–Janice, Nora, Judy, and Jackie–and now there are four grandchildren in the family. He’s already thinking in terms of tradition. Layers of life add up to what you are today.”
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by J.B. Spector/ various vintage photos.